Please Note: This journal contains a wide variety of stuff — complete stories, bits and pieces, commentary, and who-knows-what else. As is always the case these days, the material is protected by copyright. On the other hand, I publish it here to be shared. Feel free to pass it on. Just give me credit. Fair enough?
“Who the hell do you think you are?”
The old man banged his fist on the table.
The background chatter in The Nine Dragons And A Sheep stopped.
In the sudden quiet, patrons turned to witness whatever might happen next.
But entertainment? Certainly.
Uncle Petr’s outbursts always signaled the beginning of a lively oration.
This time his attention was focused on George Novak,sitting alone at a table in the middle of The Dragons’ main room.
Uncle Petr was provoked to rise and declaim when he overheard George reply to a simple question from a man sitting at the next table.
The man had asked: “What brings you to Prague?”
George said, “I’m here to begin looking for my Czech roots. My grandparents immigrated to the States in the late eighteen-hundreds, and I’m the first member of my family to return. Now I’m looking for distant cousins and graves and records and photographs.”
Uncle Petr stood – glaring down at George – and repeated his demand.
“Who the hell do you think you are?”
Before George could reply, Uncle Petr bore in like a prosecuting attorney in a courtroom trial:
“You Czech-Americans drive me crazy. Crazy! Your grandparents bailed out a hundred years ago, abandoned their homes and country, and went off to America – the lovely land of opportunity. Free land – free everything. And now . . . now you come wandering back looking for your roots as if nothing had happened here while your crowd was away. Bah!”
Uncle Petr took a deep breath, and continued, emphasizing his words by rhythmically pounding his fist on the table:
“Well . . .let . . . me . . . tell . . . you . . . it hasn’t been all parties and polkas here while your people were gone. . . . No sir! . . . It’s been hell! . . . Chaos! . . . We had World War One . . .the Spanish Influenza . . .The Great Depression . . .World War Two . . . Nazi Germans . . . and if that wasn’t enough, the Russians came . . . and then the Communists took over – and now . . . ha! . . . the invasion of free-wheeling Democracy!
We’ve mostly known suffering, destruction, oppression, poverty, and sorrow.
God only knows what will happen to us next!”
Uncle Petr leaned forward, hands on the table, and scowled at George.
Wham! – he punched the table with his fist again.
“Listen to me! Listen to me! And get this through your head.
We damned near stopped existing – we suffered . . . and starved . . . and bled . . . and died – over and over and over.
We might have not even been here for you to come back to wander around in.”
Uncle Petr addressed the rest of the patrons in the pub: “Right? Right?”
Applause, cheers – then quiet, as they waited for the next phase of the outburst
from Uncle Petr. They knew his outrage contained truth. But they also knew it would, sooner or later, be tempered by Uncle Petr’s basic benevolent good will.
Uncle Petr threw back his head and unleashed a great face-crinkling laugh.
“Ha! And the truth is . . . the truth is that if the rest of us had been smart – if we had any brains at all, we all would have gone with your crowd when you left.
Imagine now – Imagine! The Czech Republic of Texas! Right? Right?”
The crowd cheered. Right, Right.
Uncle Petr continued – his voice now gentle and warm.
“But . . . look – here we are – here you are – that was then – this is now.
We’re still glad to see you!
A Czech is a Czech, no matter what. I’ll buy you all the beer you can drink!”
Cheers, laughter, applause.
Uncle Petr laughed again, sat down by George, put his arm around George’s shoulder, pulled him close, and kissed him on the cheek.
The listening crowd continued laughing and cheering and applauding, and then stood and lifted their beers in a toast of solidarity with Uncle Petr and George.
Situation Normal resumed once again at the Nine Dragons and A Sheep.
Never dull, especially when Uncle Petr was in residence.
When Uncle Petr was on a roll, no matter how harsh the truth he spoke, he always came around to an upbeat ending.
“Always put honey on the truth, “ he always said, “it’s easier to take that way.”
And those who knew him well said that if the devil himself were to show up, Uncle Petr would assault him fearlessly, and then find some reason to laugh, tell him a joke, and buy him a beer.